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Mental Health

Learning to be More Selfish With My Life

Until I got to college, I would say that I was whom people typically refer to as a people pleaser—I cared more about what others thought about me than what I felt myself. I figured it was an uncommon flaw I had, but soon enough, I realized how unfortunately common this trait of extreme selflessness is amongst women specifically. After coming across a couple of studies, I learned that there is scientific evidence that shows a link between gender and altruism, selfless concern for others, often at the expense of your own well-being. The study showed that women are usually more altruistic than men, which can be explained by societal gender expectations. 

At its core, being altruistic and selfless is seen as noble, while being selfish is perceived as a rather adverse trait. Women specifically are revered when sacrificing for the sake of family and faith. Whether or not we realize it, not being seen as selfless has a potentially high social cost for women. This means that a woman being selfless is seen as her merely meeting a societal expectation, but if a woman is thinking more about herself, she is “less likely to be helped, hired, promoted, paid fairly, and given status, power and independence in their jobs.” 

The important lesson I learned in high school was that altruism isn’t always good, and being selfish isn’t necessarily bad. Turns out, science says the same. A new study has shown that “healthy selfishness” can positively affect yourself and others, while “pathological altruism” can have unforeseen, negative consequences. This study advocates for individuals to partake in “healthy selfishness,” as it is associated with higher levels of psychological well-being. Clearly, selfishness is not always a vice. Rather, in proper doses, it can be a tool in developing self-respect, personal fulfillment and happiness. 

Monica and Rachel high-fiving

Learning to put my happiness first was one of the most challenging yet cathartic experiences of my life. As a typical teenager, I cared way too much about what others thought about me and my actions. I lived my life trying my best to conform to what I felt was “normal,” regardless of what I felt myself. I let others decide who I was and felt like anything that made me an individual or unique was problematic. I was afraid to let people know when I had enough and let people walk all over me for personal gain, without saying anything back to them.

I was naive, idealistic and felt a need to receive external validation to indicate my own self-worth. After a switch in high schools, some personal reflection and growth, I began embarking on a journey to care more about myself and be more selfish without feeling guilty. It took small changes, but eventually, I started standing up for myself, being more confident, speaking more honestly and bluntly with others instead of overthinking about their potential reactions to my opinions, etc. 

Although I’m not perfect, I am really happy with how I choose to live my life now. I think that in college, I’ve found more of a balance between being selfless and selfish. Some of my friends and family would argue that I still have work left to do, but I’m proud of my progress and believe that even the smallest improvements can translate to drastic differences in our well-being. I hope more people realize the importance of being “healthy selfish” and embark on their own journeys towards prioritizing themselves. It may be hard, but it’ll definitely be worth it. Putting ourselves first is not always a bad thing—in fact, it can be just what we need. 

Rishitha is a senior at VCU majoring in Bioinformatics, while on the pre-medical track. When she isn't in classes, she loves to binge-watch sitcoms, cook, bake, and spend time with her friends and family! In her future, she hopes to become a physician and make meaningful impacts on patients' lives!
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